ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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"What does it take to love my fellow man / His troubles are the same as mine

Why is it so hard for us to understand / that love transcends all space and time"


(Abiola Sinclair)



CDs by Weldon Irvine

Liberated Brother / Sinbad  /  Spirit Man  /  Time Capsule / Cosmic Vortex  /   Keyboards Wild DJs Smile  

Time Capsule / Music Is the Key  /  The Price of Freedom

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Weldon Irvine Dead at  58

(October 27, 1943 – April 9, 2002)


The highly respected composer-playwright-pianist Weldon Irvine met an untimely death under tragic circumstances this past April 9. His body was not identified by authorities until April 17. He was 59.  

Wake for his family and friends was held Sunday, April 28, 2002, from 2pm to 8pm. Funeral services was set for Monday, April 29, beginning at 9:30am. Both services will take place at the J. Foster Phillips Funeral Home, located at 179-24 Linden Boulevard, in Jamaica, Queens (718/526-5656).

Born in 1942 and bred in Virginia, after graduating from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), where he majored in literature and minored in music, he moved to New York City in 1965, forming his own seventeen-piece big band, and was soon commissioned to work on Lorraine Hansberry's To Be Young, Gifted and Black, for which production he wrote the title tune. "Nina Simone wrote 'To Be Young, Gifted and Black' with the pianist Weldon Irvine Jnr.  

[To Be Young, Gifted and Black was a play composed after her death by her husband Robert Nemiroff from a collection of her work, correspondence, and interviews]


 Throughout the 60s and 70s, Irvine continued recording and performing in clubs and festivals, and premiered his first blockbuster musical at the Billie Holiday Theatre, in Brooklyn, Young, Gifted, and Broke. It ran for eight months, won four prestigious AUDELCO Awards, and signaled the beginning of a decade-long relationship with that theatre, in which he produced well over twenty subsequent musical dramas.      

As he transitioned himself into becoming an elder of Hip Hop culture, many of the more politically conscious artists in that arena, including Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Q-Tip, sought him out as teacher and mentor. As well, he was highly respected among political activist organizations and cultural institutions working in the African American community, including the December 12th Movement, Sistas' Place, Patrice Lumumba Coalition, the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, where he began the process of founding a church for artists, and among radio personalities Minister Conrad Muhammad, Clayton Riley, James Mtume, and Elombe Brath, among others.

Known in jazz and poetry circles simply as Weldon and within the world of Hip Hop as Master Wel, Mr. Irvine's skills as a musician and lyricist throughout his career were well demonstrated in just about every genre of African American music. With well over 500 compositions to his credit, much of which has been recorded on albums, audio tapes or CDs, he was the producer, arranger and conductor for an inestimable number of concerts, festival presentations, and staged musicals that focused on each of those genres: Gospel music, Rhythm and Blues, Be Bop, Hard Bop, Fusion, Funk, Free Jazz and Hip Hop. He has worked with such Jazz notables as Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Stanley Turrentine, Bill Jacobs, with Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway, as well as with poets Louis Reyes Rivera, George Edward Tait, Rich Bartee and the Griot Trio, and with such Rappers and Spoken Word Artists as KRS-One, Grand Master Flash, Gang Starr, Big Daddy Kane, Ice Cube, Black Star, Tree, Rah Goddess, and Mums the Schemer, to name just a few.      

As the 21st century entered, he produced and financed THE AMADOU PROJECT, a CD commemoration of the 1999 slaying of the young and unarmed Amadou Diallo, who was shot to death by four New York City police. A day after Diallo was shot at 41 times by four white New York city cops, Irvine began gathering together poets and hip-hop artists who shared his sense of outrage. The assembled talent recorded the album The Price Of Freedom.

"I said, 'This has got to stop and I'm going to use my art form as a vehicle to address the shooting,' " Irvine says from his New York home. "I know the topic is not one that people are going to party over, but I did try to include some things to lighten up the mood. Some songs don't talk about Amadou at all." The CD features a host of Spoken Word Artists, Rappers and MCs, including close associates Don Blackman and Carla Cook, as well as voice-overs by the parents of young Diallo.

Popular among hip-hop artists -- Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, KRS-One and many others have sampled his soul-jazz-funk material from the '60s and '70s -- Irvine explains why so few rappers have expressed their anger at the shooting in their music.

"There was a resurgence in '60s sentiment in the early '80s with groups like Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubian and KRS-One, but then you had the advent of gangsta rap and that made the labels decide to kill conscious rap and push gangsta rap," says Irvine, who wrote the anthem Young, Gifted And Black for Nina Simone in '68.

"So, many of the young rappers got disconnected from a tradition of protest and decided to rap about mayhem in order to get paid."

Irvine says the music world needs more people like Muhammad Ali -- the classic civil disobedient, who knew he faced the possibility of never boxing again professionally for refusing to fight in Vietnam in the '60s.

Taking musical risks is nothing new for the Virginia native. Well before the terms 'acid jazz' and 'rare groove' were coined, Irvine was doing it.

"I called it rock-jazz at the time," Irvine says. "I would write a bassline that James Brown would be comfortable with, and have an R&B drum pattern going with that bassline. I would then borrow a melody from my jazz experience and put it together."

Weldon's musical influences -- Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and Horace Silver, to name a few -- and eclectic taste manifested themselves in his warm, sunny, soulful sound.

"It's not like I started off with Chopin and never moved out of classical, or I started with blues and never moved outside of B.B. King, or started with Coltrane and never moved out of be-bop," Irvine says. "I was dealing with all three, and then some."

Irvine -- who appears on Black Star's and Mos Def's brilliant albums, and is giving Q-Tip and Common piano lessons -- is excited by the number of hip-hop artists gravitating toward a more musical sound.

Quite a few MCs and hip-hop producers really want to play instruments, and perhaps they would be playing if music-education programs hadn't been taken out of the (American) public-school system," he says. "I think it's pretty appalling to take art out of education, but be that as it may, I'm trying to fill in the gap."

He adds: "I'm certain that groups like The Roots, Common, Erykah Badu will become more influential and inspire some of the people you don't like to change their sound and direction."      

"My sympathy and condolences go out to the community here, to his family, and to the international community as well," said Mr. Saikou Diallo, Amadou's father. "We have lost a great man."       Before his untimely departure, Weldon was the recipient of a SPIRIT AWARD, given to him by the Medgar Evers Student Association and Akeem Productions, this past February, 2002.             

"Many of the young rappers got disconnected from a tradition of protest and decided to rap about mayhem in order to get paid"  Weldon Irvine

Weldon Irvine sits at the piano and starts to play. After getting a feel for the instrument (a Steinway grand), he launches into a survey of piano styles, from classical to bop. Punctuated by commentary, his rousing history lesson includes a classical-sounding improv, along with snippets of Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell. "Everything I learned I never forgot," he says, at one point. "All the styles and all the school, it's still there." He turns and grins. "Isn't that fantastic?" he asks.

In Irvine, the styles have mingled, mixed, and morphed into a rare breed of music, a funky fusion buoyed by a spiritual vibe that's as uplifting and expansive as it is deep and inclusive. As a result, he occupies sacred space somewhere between Alice Coltrane (and various other Impulse artists) and Stevie Wonder on the continuum of African-American music. With lofty ambition and earthy bravado, he's filled that space with a unique blend of jazz, blues, gospel, Latin, soul, funk, and hip-hop.

Over the past forty years, Irvine has crafted an enduring body of work. With Nina Simone, he co-wrote the anthemic "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," and his songs have been covered by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, and Freddie Hubbard. His solo records, especially his 1970s albums for RCA, have been reissued and rediscovered by a new generation of rare groove aficionados and hip-hop heads. Jamiroquai recorded a version of "We Gettin' Down" in 1995, and A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-1, and Ice Cube have sampled Irvine's music.

"Weldon is the man," says Jamiroquai. "[He is] probably the greatest fusionist in the business.... His stuff is excellent." "Weldon doesn't live by any boundaries," says Q-Tip, Tribe's former frontman. "He's very liberated and free."

"He's a badass," says dj Andrew Jervis, who doubles as vice-president of Ubiquity Records, a San Francisco-based label that distributed Irvine's Weldon & the Kats disc in 1992. "The first time I ever dj'ed in New York City, I was on a bill with Weldon Irvine, Groove Collective, and a host of other new jazz cats. He was awesome. He was representing the old school, and he owned the stage! He still is awesome. Check him out arranging strings and things on Mos Def's album."

Most recently, Irvine has been closely associated with the rapper. He played keyboards on Black Star's "Astronomy (8th Light)" and contributed mightily to Mos' debut, Black On Both Sides. "Weldon is a true individual," Mos told Vibrations earlier this year. "He's one of those rare individuals you meet in life who knows exactly who he is, and he doesn't allow anybody to sell him any propaganda about who he is.... Like me, he also sees hip-hop as an extension of everything else that we listen to and love so much in American culture. Whether it's jazz, blues, soul, or rock and roll, he gets it all.... He is an artist without borders."

After his impromptu performance in my living room, Weldon and I adjourn to the kitchen for a healthy meal (he requested salad, fruits, and vegetables only). Wearing a black baseball cap, white t-shirt, and black pants, he bows his head in prayer before eating. He is impeccably polite and, at times, unsettlingly direct. When told of Jamiroquai's assessment of his talents, he doesn't flinch. "I don't back up from his description of me," he says. "I don't brag about it, but I'll say very passively that I was [fusing various genres] before anybody I know. I've been doing it since the Fifties."

Irvine was born in Hampton, Virginia. His parents divorced when he was young, and both his mother and father remarried. He was raised by his grandparents. His grandmother played the upright bass, classically. Originally a farmer, Irvine's grandfather enrolled at Hampton Institute, got hired as a faculty member, and eventually was named dean of the men's college.

Irvine grew up on the college grounds, where his grandfather's position cloaked him in the privileged and protected embrace of black, southern aristocracy. He lived in a mansion, wore knickerbocker pants, and read etiquette books. He was served tea and crumpets by house servants who referred to him as Master Weldon. "It was almost like a Victorian upbringing," Irvine recalls, "and it instilled in me a sense of history that's very, very rare. Most people, regardless of their ethnicity, don't have the extremes of experience I have."

After his grandfather retired, the family moved off campus to what Irvine calls "the ghetto." There, he was targeted by street thugs who beat him up every day. He was nine years old. "I was such a wimp," he says, "that guys were bringing their little brothers over to practice fighting on me."Eventually, he learned to defend himself first with a baseball bat, and then with his fists--and the beatings stopped.

Musically, he was a boy soprano that could sing like Frankie Lyman. But having his tonsils removed changed that. He was left with a nasal voice that made him reluctant to sing, and he turned to shooting pool and playing sports, especially baseball and basketball. He believed he'd never do anything musical again.

But one day, he was hanging out with a friend's band as the group went over horn charts. A trombone part proved especially difficult, and no one could hear it clearly. Except Irvine. It was crystal clear to him, and the bandleader asked him to write it out. So he went home, opened the encyclopedia and taught himself to write music. "That put my hands on the piano and they haven't left since," he says.

At his grandfather's alma mater, he majored in English literature, but after a friend turned him on to an Art Blakey record featuring Horace Silver on piano, he was hooked on jazz. "I went to college to appease my grandparents," he says, "but I devoted most of my time to playing jazz."

He moved to New York, in 1965, and quickly immersed himself in the city's jazz scene. "One of my first gigs was with Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson's big band," Irvine recalls. "My friend went to audition for the fourth trumpet chair, and he brought [pianist] George Cables and I along for moral support. He auditioned and got the job. Cedar Walton was playing piano, and George and I noticed that he left after an hour-and-a-half, even though it was a two-hour rehearsal."

Irvine urged Cables to take Walton's seat and play. "Are you crazy?" Cables shot back. "That bench belongs to Cedar Walton."

"Do you see Cedar Walton on it?" Irvine asked.

He got out his watch. "If you're not on that bench by the time this second hand goes around once, I'll be on that bench."

Cables hesitated, and a minute later Irvine was on the bench. By the end of rehearsal, he had a job.

"Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson couldn't afford Herbie Hancock or McCoy Tyner, and Cedar wasn't always showing up because he had a [drug] problem," says Irvine, "so the guys in the band endured me. But I would be the first guy at rehearsal, I would set up chairs, and pass out music. After rehearsal, I would clean up after the guys."

Irvine recalls another memorable audition, this one in 1968. A friend who was playing with Nina Simone called to say the chanteuse was trying out organists for an ensemble that was hitting the road in three days. Was Irvine interested? "I went to the audition and got there an hour late," he says. "I walked in and said, `Ms. Simone, I'm sorry I'm late.' She said, `I don't want to hear that shit. Sit down and turn the damn thing up so I can hear your ass.' She was in the middle of a twelve bar blues in B flat. I turned up the organ and jumped in there with one chord, and she said, `Stop! You have perfect pitch.'"

Simone sent everyone out of the room, except Irvine. She looked him in the eyes and asked a series of questions, some of which were quite personal. She must have been pleased with his answers because he got the job. "I only played one chord for her," Irvine says, shaking his head."It was amazing."

For the next three years, Irvine functioned as Simone's organist, bandleader, arranger, road manager, and sometimes, co-writer. They wrote "Revolution" together, and Irvine's "How Long Must I Wonder" appeared on Simone's Here Comes the Sun record. Their greatest collaboration was, without a doubt, "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black."

As Irvine tells it, Simone was friends with the playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin In the Sun. When Hansberry's autobiography was turned into a Broadway play, Simone attended the premier of the production, which was titled To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, and was inspired to write a song. She asked Irvine to write the lyrics. She gave him the title, played the song's melody, and told Irvine she wanted lyrics that "will make black children all over the world feel good about themselves forever." That was his assignment.

For nearly two weeks, he struggled to come up with something. "It was the only time in my life that I wrestled with creating," he says. "Usually, I just open the door and it comes." On the fourteenth day, it came. He remembers it vividly. "I was in my Ford Galaxy on my way to the bus station to pick up a girlfriend from down south," he recalls. "I was stopped at a red light at Forty-First Street and Eighth Avenue when all the words came to me at once. I tied up traffic at that red light for fifteen minutes, as I scribbled on three napkins and a matchbook cover. A whole bunch of irate taxi drivers were leaning on their horns. I wrote it, put it in the glove compartment, picked up the girl, and didn't look at it until she got back on the bus to go home."

When he finally read it, he was awestruck. He remembers thinking, "I didn't write this. God wrote it through me."

In fact, much of Irvine's work seems to be the product of divine intervention. Although he refuses to label himself a Christian, he closely identifies with the teachings of Jesus. He's also studied comparative religion and seems well versed on a variety of holy books, especially the Qu'ran, Torah, and Bible. "I was born spiritual," he says, matter-of-factly. "Have you heard my song `Music Is the Key?'"

He recites the first verse, "Music is the key/The key to harmony and/Melody is king/The beat is everything so/Come and join the band/And find true understanding/Vibrations all around/Create the sound."

Then, the chorus, "Why don't you sing/Try harmonizing/Music is the key/Why not be free."

And then, part of the third verse, "Now's the time to start/To liberate your heartbeat/To the Lord above/Submit to love."

He follows up the recitation with a quote from Genesis. "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth," he says. "Created is the first verb in the Bible. God is the first proper noun.... And God created man in his own image. To me, what that means is that everybody walking around here isn't trying to be the next Miles Davis, the next Picasso, or the next Rembrandt, so artists must be the chosen people. Artists have preeminence over others, because artists are the only ones creating. And that's like God. Now, the question is what will the artist create? Will it be something that will edify and be pleasing to the creator, or will it be something that will be considered blasphemous?"

Irvine's material speaks for itself, and the titles alone reflect his artistic, often Afro-centric world view. Songs such as "Walk That Walk, Talk That Talk," "Love Your Brother," "Let Yourself Be Free," and the aforementioned "Music Is the Key" on records titled Liberated Brother, Time Capsule, In Harmony, Cosmic Vortex (Justice Divine), Spirit Man, and Sinbad are soulful, sublimely funky manifestations of his beliefs. "It was my intention that my spiritual path would be apparent to anybody who's following my body of work," he says. "I wanted people to see that I was somebody who wasn't just talking about shake your booty, let's have a good time. Every now and then I'll do a fun song, but I'm far too serious about how messed up the world is to trivialize my talents by catering to the dictates of the commercial marketplace."

Irvine didn't somberly walk the spiritual path, he strutted down it. Stepping to a heady mix of jazz, blues, gospel, Latin, soul, and funk with versatile players such as Marcus Miller, Lenny White, Billy Cobham, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Omar Hakim, and Don Blackman in tow he made a joyful noise that was difficult to categorize. The cross-hybridization may have baffled the executives at RCA the label dropped him in 1976, after the release of Sinbad--but it was nothing new to Irvine. He'd been doing it since the 1950s. "I was mixing rock and roll with jazz when I was in high school," he says. "I called it rock-jazz."

At the time, he was mixing r&b rhythms on the bottom with melodies that were using primarily pentatonic scales. "The blues scale is a minor pentatonic scale with an added flatted fifth," he explains. "You can take a Horace Silver melody--a guy that was known for jazz but who wrote things that were kind of bluesy or soulful--and go with that. You get a four/four string bass playing and that's one thing, but if you take a Fender bass and have the drummer do two and four on the snare, instead of the hi-hat, you have r&b. It's just where you emphasize the backbeat.

"That kind of thing is very much in vogue now, in different variations. They call it so many things. If you go to London, they call it acid jazz. Or you got a guy like D'Angelo. It's even in hip-hop now, with artists like Mos Def and Common, people that are working in various idioms."

These days, Irvine is making his presence felt in the hip-hop community. His keyboard and string arrangements added both scope and maturity to Black On Both Sides, and he now tours regularly with Mos. "Hip-hop is making me more visible and more viable that at any time in my career," he notes.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he promoted hip-hop as a vital art form from the jump. He professes admiration for Wu-Tang Clan and compares groundbreaking mc's such as Rakim to jazz titans like Charlie Parker. "I've always been a big fan, just like any kid with gold teeth and pants hanging off his behind," he says. "The beats that these guys were producing blew my mind.... I've always accepted it as music."

Irvine was so inspired that he began rhyming himself. Using the name Master Wel, a reference to his aristocratic upbringing, he has released a pair of hip-hop-influenced discs. 1997's Spoken Melodies--featuring Saul Williams and other poets/rappers--and 1999's The Price of Freedom a searing indictment of police brutality that included cameos by Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Q-Tip--reflect his passion for the music.

The 57-year-old Irvine says he honed his skills by hanging out with rappers half his age and paying dues. He vividly remembers signing up for open mic nights and talent shows and being asked, "Is your son gonna rap? Your grandson? Your cousin?" Within earshot, people snickered, "Hey, grandpa's gonna rap."

But he persevered. "I've worked at it for fifteen years," he says, "and I'm so pleased when I see the reaction of real hip-hop heads when they see me pick up the mic and start to rhyme. They're shocked that I'm doing it, but when they start bopping and responding to my call and response, that tells me I have the capabilities."

To illustrate his point, he starts rhyming. He taps out a beat on the kitchen table with his right hand and does a piece called "Jamming On the One." Towards the end, he freestyles a rhyme that references Horace Silver and various subjects we'd covered in our conversation. It's impressive.

More impressive is his commitment, as an elder, to teaching jazz and music theory to the hop-hop generation. He currently gives piano lessons to Q-Tip and Common, and he mentions that Erykah Badu and Doug E. Fresh are interested in studying, as well. "As these hip-hoppers get more proficient with jazz," he says, "they are going to start making all-instrumental songs and improvising on their instruments. That's going to blow a lot of people's minds." They'll be following in Irvine's footsteps.

"I often just sit and listen to him," says Q-Tip, "because he teaches truth. He's my mentor."

"When I grow up, I want to be like Weldon," says Mos.

I ask the master what he thinks of such comments. "I'm just happy to have the opportunity to share what I have with these guys," he says. "That's the greatest blessing of all."

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Weldon Irvine

By Jason Ankeny

 All Music Guide

Keyboardist Weldon Irvine looms large in the pantheon of jazz-funk, profoundly influencing the subsequent generations of hip-hop artists for whom he served as collaborator and mentor. Born in Hampton, VA, on October 27, 1943, Irvine was raised by his grandparents in the wake of his parents' divorce, and while his grandmother played standup bass in a series of regional classical ensembles, her husband served as dean of the men's college at Hampton Institute. Irvine began playing piano as a teen, and while he later majored in literature at Hampton, music remained his first love, especially after discovering jazz.

Upon settling in New York City in 1965, he was recruited into Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson's big band, a year later [1966] signing on with Nina Simone as the legendary singer's organist, bandleader, arranger, and road manager. The two also wrote songs together, and after seeing a performance of playwright Lorraine Hansberry's To Be Young, Gifted and Black, Simone instructed Irvine to compose lyrics for a song of the same title. After two weeks of writer's block, the words came to him in a flash of inspiration, and the finished song would later merit cover versions by performers including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway on its way to becoming the best known of his approximately 500 published compositions.

After splitting from Simone, Irvine formed his own 17-piece group that at different times included the likes of Billy Cobham, Randy Brecker, Bennie Maupin, and Don Blackman; in 1973, the Nodlew label issued his first headlining session, Liberated Brother, followed a year later by Time Capsule. Over the course of these records the keyboardist truly hit his stride, honing not only his singular yet skilled fusion of jazz, funk, soul, blues, and gospel—a direct antecedent of what would later be known as acid jazz—but also the social consciousness and impassioned spiritually that further defined his career.

In addition to subsequent LPs like 1975's Spirit Man and the next year's Sinbad, Irvine also began writing musicals for the stage, and in 1977 New York's Billie Holiday Theatre produced his Young, Gifted and Broke, which proved both a commercial and critical smash that won a series of awards during its eight-month run. The Billie Holiday Theatre also mounted more than 20 of Irvine's other musicals, most notable among them The Vampire and the Dentist, The Will, and Keep It Real.

But while Irvine focused on his stage projects, his recording career fell by the wayside, and following 1979's Sisters he did not headline a new LP for another 15 years. In that time his work was rediscovered and praised by a growing number of politically minded young rappers, especially Boogie Down Productions, A Tribe Called Quest, and Leaders of the New School, all of whom sampled his vintage recordings. Unlike many artists of his generation, Irvine embraced these upstarts in turn, in 1994 recording the hip-hop-inspired Music Is the Key for the indie label Luv'N'Haight.

Three years later he cut Spoken Melodies, even rapping himself under the name Master Wel, and that same year lent keyboard and string arrangements to Mos Def's Black on Both Sides; he even gave piano lessons to rappers Q-Tip and Common. In 1999 Irvine called on Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Q-Tip for The Price of Freedom, a searing indictment of police brutality inspired by the death of Amadou Diallo, a defenseless African immigrant murdered in a hail of gunfire by New York City cops.

On April 9, 2002, Irvine committed suicide outside a New York City office complex— he was just 58 years old.—Amazon

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Nina Simone at a Harlem Festival (1969) Donny Hathaway. Young, Gifted, and Black (Live)

Bob Andy & Marcia, Young, Gifted & Black

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To Be Young, Gifted and Black

                        Lyrics by Weldon Irvine


To be young, gifted and black,
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and black,
Open your heart to what I mean

In the whole world you know
There are billion boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and black,
And that's a fact!

You are young, gifted and black
We must begin to tell our young
There's a world waiting for you
This is a quest that's just begun

When you feel really low
Yeah, there's a great truth you should know
When you're young, gifted and black
Your soul's intact

Young, gifted and black
How I long to know the truth
There are times when I look back
And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted and black
Is where it's at

Credits: Irvine, Weldon (Songwriter); Simone, Nina (Songwriter); EMI GROVE PARK MUSIC INC (Publisher); NINANDY MUSIC CO (Publisher)

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Simone asked Irvine to contribute the lyrics. 'It was the only time in my life that I wrestled with creating," he recalled. When the words finally came, Irvine was in his car. "I tied up traffic at that red light for 15 minutes as I scribbled on three napkins and a matchbook cover'" (Robert Webb, "Double Take")

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"To Be Young, Gifted and Black" is a song by Nina Simone with lyrics by Weldon Irvine. It was written in memory of Simone's late friend Lorraine Hansberry, author of the play Raisin in the Sun. The song was originally recorded by Simone for her 1970 album Black Gold; released as a single, it became a Top Ten R&B hit and a Civil Rights anthem. Notable cover versions of the song were recorded by Donny Hathaway (on his 1970 album Everything Is Everything), Aretha Franklin (on her 1972 album Young, Gifted and Black) and Bob and Marcia (whose 1970 recording reached number 5 in the UK charts).

Elton John recorded a version of "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" prior to his solo success. Intended to be released as a low budget sound-alike version of the original, it was later reissued on the compilation album Covers as Sung by Elton John. Wikipedia

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After her death, her ex-husband Robert Nemiroff adapted a collection of her work, correspondence, and interviews together in To Be Young, Gifted and Black. It opened Off-Broadway with an eight month run at the Cherry Lane. The same year To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words adapted by Robert Nemiroff was published [1970]— Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965): A Brief Biography” by Tammy Burris

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window ran for 110 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died. Her ex-husband Robert Nemiroff became the executor for several unfinished manuscripts. He added minor changes to complete the play Les Blancs, which Julius Lester termed her best work, and he adapted many of her writings into the play, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which was the longest-running Off-Broadway play of the 1968-1969 season. It appeared in book form the following year under the title, To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words [1970]. Wikipedia

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1969 was rife with turmoil and hopeful new beginnings. The Vietnam War was in full swing and instituted the first draft since World War II… The Beatles made their last public concert appearance… James Earl Ray plead guilty to assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr… Golda Meir became the first female prime minister of Israel… And a few weeks after the Stonewall riots, man took his first tentative steps on the moon.  We conclude our Pride series with a look back at the Off-Broadway.  .  .  . pr

Racial conflict was explored in Charles Gardone’s drama No Place to Be Somebody, which had recently opened at The Public Theatre. For this work, playwright Charles Gardone became the first African-American author to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and No Place was the first time the Prize was given to an Off-Broadway production. At the Cherry Lane Theatre, Lorraine Hansberry’s husband adapted many of his late wife’s writings to create To Be Young, Gifted and Black, the longest-running play of the 1968-1969 Off-Broadway season. Billy Dee Williams was seen in Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Lonne Elder III’s family drama that unfolded at a barbershop in Harlem.—Off-Broadway Pride Part III, Stonewall-Era Time Machine, Blog posted June 27, 2009

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Lorraine Hansberry


The granddaughter of a freed slave Lorraine Hansberry became a spokesperson for black Americans. Her writings reflected her fight for black civil rights, and her views against racism and sexual and statutory discrimination. Due to her short life her legacy left only a few works but all with dramatic effect on all, no matter race or color, who came in touch with them.

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born May 19, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois the youngest by seven years, of four children.

Her father, Carl A. Hansberry, was a successful real estate broker, who later contributed large sums of money to NAACP and the Urban League. Her mother, Nannie Perry, was a schoolteacher who entered politics and became a ward committeewoman (Metzger 146). . . .

In 1963 Lorraine Hansberry became very active in the civil rights movement in the South. She was a field organizer for CORE. Along with several other celebrated people among them Harry Belefonte, Lena Horne, and James Baldwin they met with the then attorney general Robert Kennedy challenging his position on civil rights (221). In 1964, she wrote The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality. During this time period she was diagnosed with cancer and divorced her husband although they continued their literary collaboration (253). Her second play The Sign in Sidney Bustein's Window opened on Broadway the same year. It received modest success. Lorraine Hansberry died of cancer on January 12, 1964 at the age of 34. The Sign in Sidney Bustein's Window closed on Broadway the same day.—Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965): A Brief Biography” by Tammy Burris

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Lorraine Hansberry was the fourth child born to Carl Augustus Hansberry (a prominent real estate broker) and Nannie Louise Perry, and niece of the Africanist Professor William Leo Hansberry, after whom the Hansberry Institute of African Studies in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria, was named. She grew up on the south side of Chicago in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

The family moved into an all-white neighborhood, where they faced racial discrimination. Hansberry attended a mostly white public school while her parents fought against segregation. Hansberry's father engaged in a legal battle against a racially restrictive covenant that attempted to prohibit African-American families from buying homes in the area. The legal struggle over their move led to the landmark Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940). Though victorious in the Supreme Court, Hansberry's family was subjected to what Hansberry would later ironically describe as a "warm and cuddly white neighborhood". This experience later inspired her to write her most famous work, A Raisin in the Sun..

Her family home at 6140 S. Rhodes Ave. has since been designated a City of Chicago landmark.— Wikipedia

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Legendary Weldon Irvine's beautiful composition, "Here's Where I Came In": it is touching, poignant, and heartbreaking.

 Misty Dawn  / Weldon Irvine raps at West End NYC 96  /  Sexy Eyes

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the Making of the New Negro

By Barbara Foley

Foley's book is a lucid and useful one... A heavyweight intervention, it prompts significant rethinking of the ideological and representational strategies structuring the era.—Journal of American Studies  

Foley does a masterful job of analyzing the racial and political theories of a wide range of black and white figures, from the radical Left to the racist Right... Students of African American political and cultural history in the early twentieth century cannot ignore this book. Essential.—Choice

In our current time of crisis, when ruling classes busily promote nationalism and racism to conceal the class nature of their inter-imperialist rivalries, one can only hope that readers will not be daunted by Foley's dedication to analyzing the ideological milieu of the 1920s that contributed to the eclipse of New Negro radicalism by New Negro nationalism.—Science & Society

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Harlem Cultural Political Movements

1960-1970, From Malcolm X (Black Is Beautiful)

By Klytus Smith, Abiola Sinclair, Hannibal Ahmed


Abiola Sinclair, 56, Amsterdam News columnist, dies.

Final rites for Abiola Sinclair, a former Amsterdam News columnist, were held Wednesday, March 21, at Unity Funeral Home, Frederick Douglass Boulevard and West 126th Street. Sinclair, who was also publisher of Black History Magazine, died at Mount Sinai Hospital on March 16, following her admission to the medical center in late January. She was 56 years old.

Sinclair reportedly was suffering from walking pneumonia, which friends said she didn't know she had for some time. In addition, Sinclair had a long-term heart condition.—J. Zamgba Browne, New York Amsterdam News, 28 March 2001.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.”

Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

By Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''

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Karma’s Footsteps

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /  Ekere Tallie Table

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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update 19 August 2012




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